The dry summer months are challenging for South Dakota farmers and ranchers but the Blum family uses innovation to keep their crops growing strong.
Making It Rain
Every ranch operates differently. Here along the Missouri River, we make it rain!
Grass is our ranch’s primary crop as a feed source for the cattle; however, we also grow crops like corn, hay millet, milo, and oats.
Most of our farm fields are called ‘dry land’. That simply means the only moisture the land receives is what Mother Nature gives. Some years, this results in a plentiful harvest where we have enough crops not only to feed all our cattle but also to sell to others. Other years, this results in a very different harvest, the kind that requires us to buy feed and/or sell cattle.
Our sandy-soiled farm fields down on the Missouri River Bottom allow us another option. For those fields, we provide irrigation from the river. Picture watering your garden or flowers, and then imagine doing it with motors, miles of pipe, and great big sprinklers!
We operate a center-pivot system for the larger field and a traveling gun for the small field. In our center-pivot system, a computerized electric motor powers a pump that sends water from the river, through the in ground pipe, and up a large pipe column that feeds a sprinkler system.The sprinkler legs move in a circle watering the field while the center pipe stays stationary.
For our small operation, manual labor remains the way we turn the system on and off and keep tabs on how it’s working.
The traveling gun operates a lot like the little yellow sprinkler tractors that follow a garden hose around your yard! This system requires more labor, a diesel-powered motor, and is certainly not for everyone. But, continuing to use the traveling gun allows us to grow feed and provide grazing options on land that would otherwise produce nothing each year.
Irrigating requires the most work and is probably our least favorite task, but each of us has found things to enjoy in the process. Early mornings and late evenings at the river are favorites. Mostly, we all appreciate the opportunity irrigating provides us to raise feed for our cattle! This year’s drought is worse than we’ve had in several years, so we’re praying for rain.